I am intrigued

This is an intriguing book. The first chapters seem straightforward but the reader is soon drawn into a narrative that pulses with inner and outer life. Philip Hart, the central character may not be very relatable but he is strangely sympathetic, apart maybe from his habit of spinning on one heel and a baffling fondness for a chess-related French quote. In fact if it hadn’t been for these slight irritations I would have had to give this book five stars.

Mark Heidenstam is brilliant at painting images that haunt the imagination and creating characters you recognise and understand. And like, I have just realised. Surely it must be unusual to have all the necessary conflict without any horrible characters? Well perhaps the school secretary, but she is proportionately dealt with and only a bit player.

The plot is majestic in its range and scope and underpinned by research which could well lead readers to do some of their own. Must admit I was taken to areas both geographic and historic that were new to me, and I should like to know more.

I said this was an intriguing book and one reason is that this should be a sad story yet isn’t, despite some heartbreaking episodes. Suspect I will be reading it again…
Four stars - AliC

A tantalising good read

A somewhat pedestrian synopsis of the novel on the back cover does an injustice to the cleverness of the plot and the writing. True, it is a novel of a quest that can be said to draw on Arthurian legend, but the substance of grail the our flawed hero seeks is as hidden as the treasure itself until the end. And then you realise Heidenstam has left little clues along the way. Those seeking blood and thunder in this book should look elsewhere for kicks, for apart from a thud after a blunder there is little to set the pulses racing but plenty to observe in the play of middle-class manners and the stolid determination to do what is felt to be right.

The joy of the book is the accurate depiction of places and the way Heidenstam builds on a factual base to weave a believable fiction, as well as to insert some fascinating detail. And those with the ability can easily check the football scoreline that features in the narrative as true - as well as put a closer date of the period. One criticism could be that some of the characters take up space with no perceivable connection to the narrative - except perhaps as a red herring to make you read on - but the writing is good enough to enjoy the detour. Perhaps, some of them may return in later books for they have further stories to tell.

The postscript is a good idea as well as a good read and fills in some of the gaps in our historical knowledge that would otherwise send us running to our search engines.
In all, a good read that will make you think - and surprise you.
Four stars - JB

Beguiling non-linear narrative

What a fine piece of work it is. I'm not particularly au fait with current fictional genres but I very much liked what I read.

The non-linear narrative particularly appealed to me but what stood out was how well the sentence structure was crafted and the amazing attention to detail and description. (The "exaltation of the quotidian ''.)

The main characters were all very well drawn with just a hint of mystery seeping through and a couple of 'is he, is shes' thrown in for good measure. There was a hint of menace about the headmaster that was never quite shaken off - was he a closet sadist or a crypto-something else. I dunno.

An exceptionally fine piece of work I might say, particularly for a first-timer. My only cavil is a stylistic one - how scenes sometimes segued mid-paragraph to different locations; perhaps it was to do with the Kindle layout. But it was confusing. 

Four stars - Raffere


Did not deliver

I loved the sound of the plot, from the description, but Stepping into the Sun didn't deliver for me. I am from the area the novel and I didn't find the setting really resonated with me. It felt inaccurate and slightly unimaginatively drawn. It leans back on a couple of cliches that I found unsatisfying and - toward the end - it becomes clear that the novel isn't going to deliver on the premise either.

The structure didn't quite work, for me, and I had some questions around clarity that I never got the answer to. The central character is imaginatively drawn, and that's why I stuck with it. I could actually imagine a television adaptation could work really well here, the tone lends itself well, but couldn't hand on heart recommend for readers. 

Two stars - Jamie Jackson

A subtle study

This is literary fiction but it’s a straightforward read, no trickery of style, no convoluted plots or timelines, no unreliable narrator. To sum it up: It’s about a mystery that spans 40 years, and drives two men into insanity. One, for the role he played in hiding something from the world, at the end of World War II. The other, many years later, through his accidental killing of the first, and the path he takes to try to make retribution.

It’s a subtle study of several very different worlds and lives, ranging from the dying days of the Third Reich, to a complacent English cathedral town, to an old woman living near the Arctic circle, to a sea voyage into the Soviet Union. And a subtle study of character and insanity. I greatly enjoyed it, and I think others will - if they are used to adult literary fiction.

Five stars - Wayfarer44

A beautifully crafted world

For a first novel, “Stepping into the Sun” is quite remarkable. Like all the best books it draws you in to a beautifully created world packed with a great storyline. There are finely drawn characters and a powerful central mystery that holds you to the very end. It begins with the central figure, Phillip Hart, driving home drunk. He kills an old man and buries him in a makeshift grave deep in a roadside ditch. That’s the trigger for a mystery taking Hart on an intriguing journey of discovery.

The language is thoughtful, the style sophisticated and, underpinning all of this, there’s deep and genuine research giving it the kiss of rich authenticity. This is a book that quietly inhabits your imagination.

If I have any criticism, it would be that perhaps a few characters are rather too finely drawn. For some of them I simply didn’t need that level of detail and just occasionally it got a bit irritating. I wanted to get on with the main characters and the plot, which are more than strong enough to keep the momentum going. But that’s a minor quibble.

Five stars - Sarah Paynter

Joseph Conrad meets John le Carré

Stepping into the Sun is a novel of ideas, adventure and redemption. Heidenstam takes us on a journey that begins in a minor public school within earshot of leather on willow, and ends not too far away in a similar institution, having arrived via a skirmish on the sidelines of the 20th century's great ideological clash.

The plot might be a bit of a stretch, but once the reader is on board the miles slip by. At its best, this is Conrad meets early Le Carré, told with an aloofness akin to the spymaster's, complete with its disdain for the English institutions that the story uses as its springboard. Indeed, this intriguing debut reads like a third or fourth work

The prose style is assured and clever; it abounds with insightful comments; it's a book that rewards the reader as well as entertains. It's an enjoyable read backed, as the appendix shows, by extensive research. Bring on the second novel, Mr Heidenstam. Or would that be the fifth?

Four stars - Simon Frontbach

Moving and unforgettable

A fantastic book, truly beautifully written, moving and unforgettable. I can't begin to identify a genre into which it fits with its innovative plot and complex character arcs but it is powerful and compelling from first word to last.

Philip Hart's journey gave me surges of emotion ... Heartbreak ... Hope ... Despair ... And made me search my own soul. Reading this novel was an extraordinary experience. An outstanding debut.

Five stars - Robin Price

Clever and enticing

Stepping into the Sun is a very clever book that entices readers into the labyrinthine world of England and continental Europe some time after World War Two. The plot unwinds as false trails are laid and the location of the main character shifts from Norwich to Scandinavia.

There are hints that the biggest prize is hidden just beyond reach. The writing is fluid and keeps pace with a plot that switches time and space. The book, which took 30 years to craft, invites the reader to speculate - what comes next.

I encourage readers to also seek out some of the background from which Stepping into the Sun is drawn. There is an excellent website that provides a guide to the author and further information about the novel's development..

Four stars - Oz reader

This page has been set aside for any reaction, good and bad, to the novel. Meanwhile there are websites covering places and events mentioned in the book that might be of interest to readers. The old region of East Prussia, which features at the start of the book and then much later on (hence the images on this page), is perhaps one of the less well-known parts of the continent. Max Egremont’s Forgotten Lands – Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia is a highly recommended read. As for places a bit closer to home:


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The Curonian Spit coast on the Baltic